A couple of weeks ago, the flier was left in our front door: Warner Bros.would be shooting a feature film, “The Judge,” starring Robert Downey Jr. and Robert Duvall. In our neighborhood. Starting June 28. The filming location was just around the corner from us, at our neighbors’ house.
“The cast and crew is excited to film in Milton, and it is only through the continued support of towns like yours, and their local businesses and residents, that the Massachusetts film industry can continue to grow and thrive,” was the sign-off.
Normally, I am not star-struck. I’ve never seen any of the “Bourne” movies, I missed “Avatar,” and I couldn’t tell you the difference between Justin Bieber and Justin Timberlake.
But this was different. I have loved Robert Duvall since I first saw “To Kill a Mockingbird” as a child, when he played the mysterious, life-saving Boo Radley. I loved him in “Lonesome Dove,” “The Great Santini,” and “Tender Mercies.” He was terrific as Marlon Brando’s consigliere in “The Godfather.”
Robert Downey Jr. I know less about, having never seen the Iron Man movies. But I did think he was hilarious in “Tropic Thunder.”
At any rate, this was lights, camera, and action practically in my backyard. The dog and I were down with it, and took several walks around the block that was closed to traffic. Gumbo was not at all impressed, lifting his leg whenever nature called, and then some.
The street, guarded at either end by police officers, has been lined with the cars and trucks of the crew. Their base was the nearby Glover School — my kids’ alma mater — which was chockablock with white trailers.
I had to know what it was like to lend one’s house out to Hollywood, and my neighbors, David Godine and Sara Eisenman, graciously agreed to answer my nosy questions.
“This is an alternate universe,” was the way David greeted me, as I picked my way around living room and dining room furniture wrapped in blankets, with rolled-up rugs, and directors’ chairs everywhere.
Sara handed me a business card that had been left in their front door last November. It was from a Warner Bros. location scout: “Please call me regarding using your house in a movie.”
It was, David said, “like winning the lottery.” Of course, they are being paid — they won’t say how much — for turning over their yard, their barn, their porch, and first floor to the crew. About that porch: That’s where most of the action of the Milton shoot takes place.
“We loved the porch, the yard, the feeling of the house. It’s an emotional house. When you see it, it evokes an emotion.” That’s what director David Dobkin told me as I sat on the porch. He has done several films, including “Wedding Crashers” and “Shanghai Nights.”
In this film, Robert Duvall plays a judge who is suspected of killing his wife. Robert Downey Jr. plays his estranged son, an attorney, who returns to their small town in Indiana for her funeral.
In fact, a few cars with blue Indiana license plates spilled over to my street, along with a porta potty on the corner. Several neighbors on the Godines’ street rented out their lawns for parking, their driveways for a snack wagon, generators, or portable bathrooms.
In the film, which will open in 2014, the judge’s home is modeled after the Godine house, which the crew rebuilt in Norwood for the interior scenes. Sara flicks through her iPhone photos to show that set, marveling at how it is identical to their own house, even down to the rust on the basement pipes.
David is founder and president of David R. Godine Inc., a small Boston publishing house; Sara is a graphic designer and instructor at Massachusetts College of Art and Design. She is impressed by how efficient and polite everyone is. David has enjoyed talking to Robert Duvall, who is a big Patriots and Tom Brady fan.
We’re in the kitchen when a makeup man informs us that “Mr. Downey is in the next room,” and shooting is about to start. I peek; there he is, wearing a white shirt and dark pants, carrying a briefcase.
“Set! Rolling! Rolling! Action!” a woman calls.
The cinematographer is Janusz Kaminski, who won Oscars for “Schindler’s List” and “Saving Private Ryan.” He has done nearly all of Steven Spielberg’s films. “I give him The New York Times every morning,” says David.
The Godines marvel at the crew’s attention to detail, down to the watering can — “They came back from the store with six,” says David — and the precise color of the “Scotch” that a character drinks, which is really apple juice diluted with this and that.
“They even planted weeds in our driveway,” Sara notes. The crew wanted “distressed” paint on their porch: “stuff you wouldn’t want your realtor to see,” says David. But Robert Duvall’s character has lived in the house a long time, and there’s wear and tear.
Sara looks out her kitchen window and takes a photo with her phone. A minute later, a crew member asks her to please move, that the cameras can see her from outside.
The hardest part is their dogs: Molly, a labradoodle, and Rex, a Lhasa-poo. They stay upstairs, or in the Godines’ barn, or in a pen in a corner of the yard. “It’s really better to vacate your house [during the shoot], but we were naive and decided to stick around for the fun,” says Sara.
Then there are the airplanes that constantly fly over Milton, in preparation for landing at Logan. Though we are used to them, Hollywood is not.
This week, David was ready for the shooting to wrap: “We have one table in the whole house where you can sit and put your computer.” That would be the kitchen, from which we were just shooed.
But in addition to the compensation, there are other benefits. Their porch has been rebuilt, with another set of steps added onto one side. A garage has been built at the end of their driveway, the better for Robert Downey Jr.’s character to peel out of in his yellow Cadillac.
Then there is the nearby snack truck, from which root beer floats were delivered to all on a recent hot day, along with trays of watermelon and other goodies. Sara and David often walked down to the Glover School, where the film chef whipped up great meals, including a lobster dinner the first night.
“We sit right where our kids used to sit in the cafeteria,” Sara says.
Someone sticks their head in and informs the couple that Robert Downey Jr. has picked a Godine Publishing coffee mug to use in a scene, over 18 other mugs. “That’ll be great publicity!” Sara says.
Oops. A crew member reports that they’ve broken a bunny figurine. Sara is unmoved: “It came out of an Easter basket.”
We’re still sitting on the porch when Robert Downey Jr. walks up from the yard. “Hi,” he waves. He talks with us for a few minutes, mentioning his two boys, a teenager and a toddler. I ask if he’s having fun with the film. “I don’t have a trust fund,” he says. “I gotta work for a living.” I think, I hope, that he is kidding.
David mentions that he in fact does have a trust fund. “We should talk,” Downey says with a grin.
He goes off, and David notices a guy carrying trays headed for their driveway. “Here comes the food,” he says.Bella English lives in Milton. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.